A veteran organist who has witnessed several churches close is one of many respondents to a recent column here headlined “Desperate Churches Lose Message.” He agrees that the growing collapse of faith in general and of Christianity in particular in the western world calls for a truly relevant shift of approach. Specifically, he asks for constructive thoughts on “How desperate faiths can talk about God” in a way that makes sense to today's men and women, including our youth.
That's a fair request and I'll try my best to comment honestly. I serve warning that there will be those who may judge my convictions to be heresy. But one thing I have discovered in a lifetime of writing about spirituality and religion is that one person's heresy is often another man's Gospel!
I believe that the churches are dead wrong to go on preaching about how we are all “sinners” and about the extraordinary (when you stop to think about it) idea that the supreme Mystery we call God somehow has a unique Son who had to die on a Roman gibbet in order to save us all from eternal damnation in a place of torment called hell. They call this “Good News” but it seems to most outsiders to be anything but good or newsy. Nevertheless, this kind of thinking still runs through the theology of every major denomination today.
The dogma that goes back as far as St. Augustine that humans are a “lump of damnation” that needs the shed blood of a Saviour for cleansing or atonement is totally unworthy of a loving Creator and is not even the plain, central teaching of the four Gospels themselves. In them the chief enemy of man is fear. Trust and compassion, not the holding of right beliefs, is the Way of the faithful.
For me, the plainest teaching of the New Testament is at the same time the churches' best “card” to play. It affirms that everyone of us is the bearer of the Kingdom or of the Spirit within. We are each endowed with all the rights and privileges of being the children (sons or daughters) of God. We are spiritual beings and the Spirit of God, the Christ within us, is our ultimate “hope of Glory.” This, I believe is fantastically Good News since it means nobody, whatever their rank, color, looks or station in life is truly unloved or alone in the world.
We belong to the same family. We are one in each other and in God. We have one simple calling—to love God and one another. There is one mission—to live our lives as fully as possible, showing kindness to the planet and others as we champion justice and healing here and abroad.
All religions are not the same but if you examine them closely you'll find that all of them in their own way proclaim this truth of our divine inheritance—the image of God, the Atman, the Inner Light, or a host of other names – so that none of us can claim to be “right” or “more right” than another. Thus, all forms of smug superiority are signs of insecurity and an infantile immaturity doomed to fail.
Here at any rate is where I would begin.